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SMART Goals May Be Holding You Back — Try This Effective Goal-Setting Technique Instead Everyone suggests SMART goals, but this framework is flawed. Learn why and how to create goals properly — ones that you can actually achieve.

By Sabrina Chevannes

Key Takeaways

  • Long-term success in goal achievement involves intrinsic motivation and seeing goals as identity changes, not just arbitrary targets.
  • The SHAPING goal-setting system offers a framework focusing on small starts, habit formation and intrinsic motivation to cultivate lasting change.
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Everyone can set goals, right? Just think about what you want to achieve, give yourself a timeframe, and make that your goal. What's so difficult about it?!

Well, let's look at the stats for a moment. I'm writing this article in February, and according to the research, only 36% will have made it this far with their New Year's resolutions. Twenty-three percent will have given up in the first week!

And those who actually keep their New Year's resolutions? Just 9%. So, do you think these people are actually good at setting goals?

Related: 5 Goal-Setting Guidelines That Drive Success

What is wrong with traditional goal setting?

If you were to Google how to set goals, it will most likely tell you to create SMART goals.

For those who don't know, SMART means:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound

While this is a great framework to start with, it has some limitations.

First of all, the T (time-bound) is the one I have the biggest issue with. It's definitely necessary to set deadlines sometimes so that you stay on track and keep momentum. However, this added pressure can cause some people to cut corners or slack on the quality. Therefore, things are not done properly and the goal is not really achieved.

The problem is that this deadline is often arbitrary. Where did you come up with this date from? Is it actually relevant?

This is the same with A (achievable). What counts as achievable? And if you set your bar too low, you're not really pushing yourself, so then what's the point?

The problem with a lot of goal setting is that you're not basing your goals on the right things.

Find your WHY

The reason why many people fail in their goals is because they haven't chosen them for the right reasons. Usually, they've based it on something they've seen on social media or something their friends are talking about.

As an entrepreneur, you take a look at what other business owners are doing in your industry, and you can't help but think that you need to be doing something similar. Your biggest competitor has announced that they're writing a book — you MUST write one too! Let's add that to your goals. It MUST be done this year too.

But for some reason, you just cannot motivate yourself to get the writing done. You prioritize everything else ahead of it. This is because the motivation for this goal is not intrinsic.

If you've not yet seen Dan Pink's TED talk on motivation, then now is probably a good time to do so!

Your motivation to achieve your goal has to come from within — it's your passion, your true desire. If you're extrinsically motivated by money, fame or social validation, this will be very short-lived motivation.

Simon Sinek has always told us to "start with why," and this also applies here. Understand why you want to achieve this goal, and why now? If you get to the root of what's driving you, you can tap into that and make sure it's for the right reasons. You are more likely to achieve your goals if you are motivated by the right things.

Related: The Art of Setting the Right Goals and Achieving Them

The right way to set goals

When speaking to successful entrepreneurs who regularly achieve their goals, it's clear that they don't just pick lofty things that they want to achieve and try to achieve them. Instead, they see their goals as an identity change and change their habits and lifestyles to match those of someone who would smash those goals.

For example, if you want to lose weight, instead of telling yourself that you're on a diet and cannot eat certain things or that you must go to the gym, you tell yourself that you're already a healthy person.

Healthy people don't eat lots of cake. Healthy people regularly go to the gym, even if for a short while. Healthy people don't drink lots of alcohol.

If you "become" a healthy person, you create healthier habits that essentially change who you are as a person. The goal of losing weight will be a natural by-product of the behavioral change.

My goal-setting system

Since acronyms seem to go down well, I created my own acronym for setting goals that work on creating a more lasting effect. My goal-setting technique is called SHAPING:

Start small:

Don't try to do too much at once. If you want to write a book, don't say you're going to write for two hours per day. Start with 100 words per day and build it up.

Habit formation:

Following on from starting small, you need to create habits to help you achieve your goals. So, those 100 words a day will be written every single day. Show up on days even when you don't feel like it. This is how habits form.


Tell someone your goals. By creating accountability for yourself, you're more likely to achieve them. Use this accountability partner to also help encourage you to stick to your habits.


Don't copy trends of what others are doing. Just because it works for them does not mean it will work for you. Personalize your methods to suit your lifestyle.

Intrinsic motivation:

Find out what really fuels you. If you understand your true "why" — what comes from within — then you can pick goals accordingly and you will be motivated by the right things.


Learning to say this simple word can be extremely difficult, but it's the most powerful thing you can do. Say NO to anything that doesn't help you achieve your goal.


Adding a bit of competitive edge to your goal setting can help wonders. Track calories, expenses, or keep a habit tracker. Give yourself rewards at milestones. If you can see the progress, it will keep you going!

Try SHAPING your goals instead of making them SMART, and see if it makes a difference to your results.

Related: The 10 Things You Must Do to Achieve Your Goals

Sabrina Chevannes

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of N0BS - a members club for entrepreneurs

Sabrina Chevannes is the founder of N0BS, a members club for entrepreneurs | Founder of the No Bullsh*t agency | International Chess Master | Best-selling author | MENSA Member | Sustainability Advocate | Executive MBA | Chartered Marketer | Podcaster | Board Advisor | University Lecturer

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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